Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

April 28, 2022

Some of the weight training you see by professional MMA fighters on social media is atrocious. Like most martial arts, lifting weights is an afterthought and is often treated that way. Is lifting weights something you should do for MMA if it’s deemed not important by many fighters?

MMA fighters do lift weights 2-3 times per week depending on whether they are in or out of fight camp. Depending on the MMA fighter, they may prioritize strength or speed development within these weight lifting sessions.

The real question is, do you need to lift weights for MMA?

Do MMA Fighters Need To Lift Weights?

MMA fighters do need to lift weights. But not in the traditional sense of a strength sport athlete or bodybuilder. Lifting weights for MMA consists of targeting specific qualities necessary for MMA performance.

MMA fighters need to be fast, powerful, and strong to cover the various athletic tasks in the cage. For example, maximal strength is vital for the grapple situation, whereas reactive and explosive strength and power are essential for striking.

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The UFC Performance Institute has detailed a reactive strength index greater than 2.6 and a vertical jump greater than 50 cm as necessary strength standards for MMA.

Developing these qualities and much more is done in the gym as part of an MMA strength training routine. Reactive strength improves the ability to throw fast, powerful striking combinations, and explosive strength and power translate to finishing takedowns.

Do MMA Fighters Lift Heavy Weights?

Do MMA Fighters Lift Heavy Weights

MMA fighters do lift heavy weights depending on how far they are from a fight. If you are close to a fight and cutting weight, then MMA fighters will not lift heavy. Instead, speed and power are prioritized.

Further from a fight, you will typically lift heavy weights to address the force end of the force-velocity spectrum. That is, developing the ability to produce force maximally. Lifting heavy also desensitizes the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), which inhibits high force activities, especially within lesser strength-trained fighters.

Essentially, the GTO will pump the brakes if it senses muscular force is too high, reducing the force output of the muscles. Lifting heavy loads can delay and reduce the magnitude of this brake so you can produce more force.

Therefore, lifting heavy at specific periods in your fight preparation is essential for your athletic development.

Further, lifting weights can potentially reduce your risk of injury, and being stronger typically means you can handle higher training loads.

How Often Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

MMA fighters will lift between 2-3 times per week. Out of fight camp, lifting weights may be scheduled three times per week, depending on your strengths and weaknesses. It would be for a fighter who lacks maximal strength or size in this instance.

As you move to fight camp, only 2 strength sessions are needed per week. As the intensity and volume of technical training ramps up, there is no need to add more training and fatigue – especially when fighting is the most critical part of your preparation.

How Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

How Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights

How MMA fighters lift weights is a whole article in itself which I’ve detailed in my MMA strength training article. But as a brief overview, forget about Powerlifting or bodybuilding. MMA weight training involves developing speed, strength, and power in multiple directions.

A typical approach could be emphasizing heavier weights further away from a fight with minimal volume of speed and power exercises. As you get closer to a fight, start to remove heavy strength training and focus on speed and power exercises. These could be various jumps, throws, and Olympic lifts.

The way I like to approach lifting weights for MMA is to use descriptive physical performance tests that analyze where your weakness is so you can address it out of fight camp. I detail this method within my Warrior Strength Training Course, and it involves performing a force-velocity profile test to determine whether you are force or velocity deficient.

If you are velocity deficient, the emphasis will be on jumps, throws, and plyometrics with a sprinkle of heavy lifting. If you are force deficient, the emphasis will be on heavy lifting and heavy jumps with a sprinkle of throws and plyometrics.

You can perform a more well-balanced strength program or double down on your strengths within reason as you get to fight camp.

Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights Or Do Calisthenics?

MMA fighters will lift weights and do calisthenics depending on the goal of the training session and cycle. For example, explosive push-ups and pull-up variations are calisthenic exercises often employed by MMA fighters as great upper body strength and power developers.

But you cannot only perform calisthenics and expect to maximize your MMA performance. It’s not possible as you cannot get the resistance you need for maximal strength adaptations.

Do MMA Fighters Squat?

MMA fighters do squat to develop lower body strength and power. But you don’t have to squat if you have niggly injuries preventing you from putting a bar on your back and sitting down. Deadlifts and single-leg squat variations are perfect substitutes.

Do UFC Fighters Deadlift?

UFC fighters do deadlift, and you can listen to how the Director of Performance at the UFC Performance Institute uses the Trap Bar deadlift as part of their fighter’s preparation.

Again, like the squat, you aren’t required to deadlift. If deadlifts don’t agree with you, you can squat instead.

Summary

MMA fighters do lift weights, and it is an essential part of their preparation. If you are an aspiring MMA professional, or a lifelong amateur, lifting weights must be part of your training schedule. Avoiding the iron will hold your physical development back.

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About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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